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Monday, July 2, 2012

I am a Stress Eater. How about You?

You never know when the next stressful blow is going to hit, as I have discovered in the last two months. I never would have anticipated starting over in the city I just moved to a year ago. With a new place and a new job, life is certainly moving in a wildly different direction than originally envisioned. Don’t get me wrong. These changes are now exciting! But I first had to endure some stress. I discovered a couple of things about my eating habits during this time. It appears I have two reactions to stress depending on the stress level and duration of stress. Sounds complicated and maybe I am over thinking it. My natural inclination is to turn any situation into something related food.   
Blow off some stress with a wig party!

When faced with a low to medium level stress for an ongoing basis, I become a stress eater. You too?  My intake of restaurant food increases as my desire to cook decreases. I’m too concerned with my stress to cook at home and the fat and salt at a restaurant is oh so yummy and comforting.  Now, when the stress hits maximum peak level, it switches. I now have no desire to eat nor do I have an appetite. I lost 5 pounds that week. (This isn’t a diet I would recommend, of course.)

It really doesn’t matter if you are stressed, bored, happy, sad, or indifferent to life. Emotional eating reeks havoc on our health. The second time the Colts won the AFC championship I decided it was necessary to celebrate by indulging in some fast food. My GI tract was not celebrating with me.

Why Stress Eating is Bad

If you have ever seen The Biggest Loser on NBC, you may have picked up on a common theme. Many contestants have endured some tragedy in life. They then begin to medicate with food. The choices made during a stressful time can add to extra calories that just turn to extra weight. Or if you are bored and engage in mindless eating, you are also contributing to excess calories.

Your body creates a hormonal reaction to stress.  Cortisol is released to help us physically cope with unnerving situations. I think of cortisol as that hormone that helps me outrun bear in the woods or a wooly mammoth in the cave. It’s designed to be there during times of acute stress. When present in blood for long periods of time, cortisol will have slow long-lasting and detrimental effects. It can cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, immune system suppression and much more. For more detailed information on the effects of cortisol, see Today’s Dietitian.

Cope without food

Hmm….what else could we do besides eat. I don’t know maybe pray? Read? Or how about exercise? Exercise is a great way to deal with stress. It helps relieve some steam while providing cardiovascular benefits and calorie burn. You could actually take your lunch break at work. My special peaceful activity is lying by the pool with a book. Whichever activity you choose doesn’t matter. The point is to let go of destructive behavior that is holding you back.

Discover what your triggers are. Find out what events will cause you to splurge on foods and develop plans to counteract them. For example, don’t keep junk food in the house. If it’s not in the house, I have to be incredibly motivated to get my shoes back on and drive the car to somewhere that has high calorie foods.  Also, try thinking of the end result of you indulgence before partaking. While trying to cover up the stress with some chocolate cake or cheese fries, we end up feeling even worse after.

What I Learned

The experience in the last two months has really opened my eyes to habits that I can improve upon. Most of all is creating a new habit that fully relies on God.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:28-34.

I have not been good at putting this into practical use. How am I to stop worrying even when God has control? I do not think this means that we shouldn’t stress or worry about anything and just run around living careful lives.

I can think of one parallel in particular. Since I have not had a child of my own, I can only imagine what a woman in labor goes through. Is she stressed and worried about the outcome? I have no doubts. Does she however trust her doctor to guide her and help her to deliver a healthy baby? For sure! When I trust in God I know that my needs will be met, even though the situation still remains stressful. He is there as the guide through the process. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God I trust; I will not be afraid.” Ps 56:3-4.

Today’s Verse: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." Mt 6:34

Next Blog:  Farmers’ Markets and Organics. Your Food is Going Green!


  1. Great Post! Thanks for sharing all of this. The last year I have really struggled with 'feeding lonely'. I didn't even realize I was running to food for comfort but i'm glad to have found your blog for extra encouragement! Working out really does help with stress!

    1. Thanks Laura! Food is so easy to use as comfort since we already need it and its not illegal. I'm glad you found exercise to help you!

  2. A timely post for me as I have been struggling with stress eating the past couple of weeks.